Incentive Travel: Get Ready for a Comeback

January 19, 2021

COVID-19 vaccines are in distribution.  Hotels and airlines are operating with new health and safety protocols. Destinations are opening their doors with clear guidelines. And if the gorgeous hotels and resorts filling my social media feed are any indication, there’s a great deal of pent up demand to get back on the road, or on the beach. Get ready for a comeback! Incentive travel is ramping up.

Incentive companies and corporate program owners reported that just 23% of  programs operated in 2020, but the majority expect that the market will rebound within one to two years. The value of incentive travel is well-established and many companies are looking forward to the chance to gather with customers and top employees. That’s consistent with what we’re seeing here at Next Level. We’re busy quoting and booking programs for the second half of 2021 and beyond.

The recent Incentive Travel Industry Index, a joint study by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), SITE Foundation, and FICP had some interesting practical takeaways for incentive program owners thinking about restarting their programs:

  • Stakeholder Support. 83% of respondents report that “senior management and other stakeholders remain committed to incentive travel.”  Programs have most definitely been on pause during these last challenging months, but incentive travel continues to be known to be an important way to grow relationships, increase engagement, and reward top performers.
  • Activities. Wellness activities and those that can be done in small groups will be important in program design in 2021. This reinforces not only social distancing, but also contributes to guest well-being and comfort.
  • Do The Right Thing. CSR and sustainability projects are also likely to increase, as companies try to help those affected by the pandemic or by the resulting economic challenges.
  • Flexibility. For the next year, for personal medical or family reasons, it may be difficult for some people to travel or to be part of group gatherings. There may be a need for hybrid or recorded events or for fewer events on site to be mandatory.
  • Closer To Home. Many US-based companies are planning domestic programs, or programs in nearby countries including Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Interest in programs to Europe for 2021 is down, but only by 10% relative to closer destinations. Interest in Europe for 2022 and 2023, however, is much stronger, as the expectation of safe and easy travel returns.
  • Risk Management. Of course, risk management should always be part of planning every program. From contract negotiations to medical personnel on site, program owners and planners are working to maximize health and safety and minimize risk.

Here at Next Level, we also think it’s important to consider event alternatives – just in case. For near term programs, if you experience a cancellation, be sure to communicate the change and to still reward top performing employees or customers. If you need help, give us a call. We can transition your program to a points platform in a matter of days and craft communications to make the experience seamless.

For programs later in the year, have a plan in place for those who cannot travel for medical or family reasons. Will you reward them with points or with a meaningful gift? Cash is not a recommended alternative. Research shows that it’s not as motivating or engaging, and is too easily mentally combined with compensation.

Need help restarting your program? Reach out to us and we’ll be glad to help.

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